Jazz Notes: Vision Festival, Day 6

peterbell380bThis week, MAGNET’s Mitch Myers reports from the Vision Festival, the avant-garde jazz event in New York City.

As the 14th Vision Festival winds down, I’m struck by the array of artists whose creative work is considered avant-garde. A number of great musicians were hanging around this week, and the programming for Sunday night’s show was full of amazing talent. Trombonist/composer Steve Swell presented his trio Planet Dream for a matinee performance of utopian chamber jazz, showcasing an intimate collaboration between himself, saxophonist Rob Brown and Daniel Levin on cello. Swell’s compositions were smart and imaginative, but it was the gentle improvisatory aspects of this group that really came across.

Chicago free-jazz patriarch Fred Anderson (pictured) made a memorable, early-evening appearance, supported by his longtime associates and Vision Fest mainstays Hamid Drake and William Parker. Anderson is 80 years old, and his history with Chicago’s avant-garde community goes all the way back to the very first concert given by the AACM in the mid-’60s. On Sunday, Anderson found his way onto the stage, put his tenor saxophone to his lips and didn’t move again for the length of his segment. Behind Anderson, Drake shifted from hand drum to full kit while Parker dabbled with Eastern instruments before settling on his upright bass. This was highly emotive free jazz, echoing the spiritual works of John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, and the amazing set ended far too quickly. I guess that’s how you cater to geriatric jazzmen—keep their sets short and the audience wanting more.

Michele Rosewoman has kept Quintessence—an ever-shifting performance collective—together for more than 20 years, and she presented two new compositions. Straddling the line between modern classical and jazz, Rosewoman is a talented pianist/composer, and she surrounded herself with a band of ace musicians including bassist Brad Jones, trombonist Vincent Gardner and alto saxophonist Loren Stillman. Toward the end of their highly arranged set, Quintessence broke into a funky groove with Rosewoman playing an electric keyboard in the style of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters.

The wholly improvisational trio of Whit Dickey (drums), Eri Yamomoto (piano) and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter started out slowly but gained momentum, especially as Carter switched from flute to trumpet to clarinet to saxophone. Dickey’s drumming was flowing and Yamomoto’s piano work cerebral, but Carter demanded the audience’s full attention as he put on a bold display of spontaneous improvisation. Carter deserves more of a spotlight, and Vision Fest programmers would be wise to bring him back next year in a greater capacity.

Finally, much to the chagrin of the weak-hearted jazz fans, German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann closed the evening with his group, Full Blast. A virtual power trio with Brötzmann, electric bassist Mariano Pliakas and drummer Michael Wertmüller, Full Blast lived up to its loud/fast moniker with a thundering racket that sent some of the Vision Fest faithful scurrying for the exits. Brötzmann’s brain-frying tenor screeds were imposing, the rhythm section pounding, and despite an occasional melodic interlude, his set was one full force gale and louder than love—the perfect way to finish up an evening of wild, diverse jazz performances.

With just one more night to go, I’m putting my dashiki and skullcap back in the closet and mourning the end of the 14th Vision Festival.

Film At 11: Petra Haden

There are so many reasons to love Petra Haden—former member of That Dog, creator of an a cappella version of The Who Sell Out, plus she once told us about how she went to Jane Fonda’s summer camp when she was a kid—that we refuse to be creeped out by the humans-in-tights landscape of this Toyota Prius commercial. Here Haden covers the Bellamy Brothers’ “Let Your Love Flow”; she’s currently working on another a cappella album. Last year, she made us a mix tape.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tq4nrmnqY9o

From The Desk Of Bob Mould: Coffee

bobmouldlogoBob Mould is a man always on the lookout for a new challenge. After Hüsker Dü (one of the most celebrated rock bands ever) folded in 1988, Mould would helm another powerful trio, Sugar, before beginning a fascinating, ongoing series of solo releases that have ranged from introspective to danceable, from melodic to nearly chaotic. The enigmatic guitar (and cultural) hero is finishing up what promises to be a fascinating memoir to be published next year and has just released a rock-solid solo disc, Life And Times. Read our new Q&A with him and earlier ones from 2008 and 2002. Mould will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all this week.

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Mould: One of my main passions in life, since quitting drinking 23 years ago, is the consumption of coffee. It is my drug of choice, ingested on a daily basis, for hours each day. I know people who, when it comes to matters of the bean, are way more persnickety than I could ever be. The bean, the seed of the fruit that is plucked from the tree, processed and packaged in many flavors and wrappers. Some cities are more inclined to be outfitted with independent roasters and cafes, and for the past year, San Francisco has been my coffee heaven. I was first made aware of the Blue Bottle Coffee Co. kiosk in Hayes Valley, followed by Ritual Coffee Roasters in the Mission and, now, Four Barrel Coffee. Each company offers unique products and environments in which to savor their wares. For me, my choice is less about my proximity at any given time and more about personal mood. In that way, the coffee experience is less about convenience and brand loyalty and more about the implications of environment and socialization.

MP3 At 3PM: stellastarr*

stellastar400It’s no secret that New York’s stellastarr* has been influenced by the Cure. From Shawn Christensen’s uncanny vocal resemblance to Robert Smith to his lyrics (“In The Walls” professes, “Well, I want to wake from my disease/And the cure is lying next to me”), this band is the most recent wave of new wave. Christensen even has a hint of an English accent while singing the more passionate lyrics. Stellastarr*’s new album, Civilized (on Bloated Wife), hits stores July 7.

“Freak Out” (download):

Lost & Found: Anti-Pop Consortium

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As an addendum to our recent list of Lost Classics (a series of posts highlighting some of the best underrecognized and forgotten indie-rock albums released since MAGNET began publishing in 1993), we’ll continue to play catch-up with the artists we featured. Because you just never know when you’ll stumble across the former drummer for Velocity Girl.

Today’s update concerns Anti-Pop Consortium, Radiohead’s favorite hip-hop group circa Kid A. Though we mentioned the reunion and impending release of new album Fluorescent Black in our Lost Classics entry, it’s now been officially confirmed and given a release date: October 13 on Big Dada. Because MAGNET loves you and wants you to be happy—even if part of that happiness was once due to the zeitgeist of intelligent hip hop paired with glitchy electronica circa your Autechre phase, but we digress—here’s a free download of a track from the album.

“Capricorn One” (download):

That’s What Friends Are For: Rhett Miller’s Week In Review

rhettmillerbw340Hey, remember last week? That’s when Old 97’s frontman Rhett Miller guest edited magnetmagazine.com—or, rather, his posse of famous actors, artists, musicians and writers did his dirty work for him. It was quite an onslaught of celebrity posting, and we wanted to take just a moment to rehash some of the highlights:

Since it was posted, not a day has gone by that we haven’t uttered the phrase, “It fucks your mouth with flavor.” Thanks, Greg Behrendt, author of He’s Just Not That Into You.

Lisa Loeb was not lying about that peanut butter. It fucks your mouth with flavor.

Nathan Fillion, star of ABC’s Castle, you are an angry man. We like this anger. We’re from Philadelphia, you know.

30 Rock‘s Lonny Ross wrote about comedy cult classic Night Shift. Fine, but have you seen Midnight Madness?

And who could forget High Fidelity/About A Boy author Nick Hornby discovering MAGNET faves Crooked Fingers? Oh, Mr. Hornby. We have so much to talk about.

Go on back and check out the rest of the posts by Rhett Miller’s entourage. His self-titled solo album is out now. And while you’re back there, check out Jon Wurster’s A.C. Newman tour diary.

Q&A With Bob Mould

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Twenty-five years ago, it would have been difficult to imagine Bob Mould, singer/guitarist for one of the most celebrated rock bands ever, Minneapolis’ three-man juggernaut Hüsker Dü, evolving to the point where he would someday record an album of electronic dance music. But it’s been the nature of Mould, a man always on the lookout for a new challenge, not to stay in one place too long. After Hüsker Dü (read our 2005 cover story for more about them and the Replacements) folded in 1988, Mould would helm another powerful trio, Sugar, before beginning a fascinating, ongoing series of solo releases that have ranged from introspective to danceable, from melodic to nearly chaotic. Mould has worked as a creative consultant for World Championship Wrestling and, more recently, created Blowoff, monthly gay discos that began in his current home town of Washington, D.C., and are now held all over the U.S. The enigmatic guitar (and cultural) hero is finishing up what promises to be a fascinating memoir to be published next year and has just released a rock-solid new solo disc, Life And Times (Anti-). Mould took a break from working on his book’s manuscript to speak with MAGNET. Mould will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all this week. Read our Q&As with him from 2008 and 2002.

“I’m Sorry, Baby, But You Can’t Stand In My Light Any More” (download):

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Wrens Watch, June 15, 2009

wrenswatch92111111111111We’ve been fans of New Jersey’s finest since even before their first album came out back in 1994, so let’s just say we’re used to sitting around waiting for them to take their sweet-ass time putting out new music. (Three albums in more than 14 years makes the Wrens about as prolific as Boston, which is kind of like being as tall as James Madison.) As reported in a Wrens Watch Special Report, January 9 marked a huge milestone for the guys: guitarists Charles Bissell and Greg Whelan, bassist Kevin Whelan and drummer Jerry MacDonald. They issued “Pulled Fences,” their first new (well, sort of new) song since 2003’s The Meadowlands. Perhaps motivated by finally releasing something, the band convened—not in a real studio, but in Kevin’s basement—21 weeks ago to begin work on its new album. And not only that, the Wrens recorded an actual song (which you can download for free here). When we checked in with Bissell 18 weeks ago, he took exception with our good-natured sarcasm and quickly ended the interview. After ignoring us for a while, Bissell finally gave us a progress report; it seems that while other bands get together and record, the Wrens stay apart and talk to each other on the phone. Or they do nothing at all. Or they update their Facebook pagesThirteen weeks ago, Bissell informed us he was “too busy” to respond to our questions, but he did promise us some exclusive Wrens mp3s in the near future. Twelve weeks ago, he didn’t even bother responding to our emails, prompting us to call him an unprolific Ryan Adams. That got Bissell’s attention, who 11 weeks ago apologized (profanely) and promised us an exclusive Wrens mp3 for the April 6 Wrens Watch. After not delivering, he said he’d come through the next week, but he didn’t. When Bissell ignored us again (Wrens Watch, April 20 and April 27), we speculated the Wrens were actually recording. Or maybe Bissell was just being a jerk. But then he told us six weeks ago he’d have a new Wrens mp3 for us. And guess what? The man finally came through. Download a demo of “Z,” which was written and performed by Kevin. We emailed Bissell numerous times to thank him for “Z” and ask him how the new record is progressing, but like we told you four weeks ago, he was unresponsive. He did email us a photo for three weeks ago, though, so we had that going for us. Which was nice. Two weeks ago, we got an email from Bissell saying, “Headed to bed but might have something for you.” As reported last week, other than a strange email from him referencing Fat Albert, we haven’t heard from him since.

Live Review: The Church, San Francisco, CA, June 12, 2009

churchlive550It’s a monumental occasion for faithful Oz-rock worshippers: The Church has once again returned to California. One of the keystone elements of college rock back in the ’80s, the Canberra-bred Aussie combo, led by bassist Steve Kilbey and guitarists Marty Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes, was once part of a dazzling Australian contingent that included the Saints, Radio Birdman, Hoodoo Gurus, Died Pretty, Celibate Rifles, Screaming Tribesmen, Stems, Scientists, Moodists, Lime Spiders and Sunnyboys.

Kilbey has a sunburned look these days, like he’s just returned from a couple of months in the Australian outback with Mel Gibson, shooting Mad Max XII: Burned To A Crisp, continuing the endless search for gazzoline in a post-apocalyptic wilderness. “Hello, I intended to have flowers in my hair, but they never arrived,” said Kilbey. It’s a dead giveaway for anyone who hasn’t seen them in a while, to the musical direction the set will take. Rather than the jangly, slightly Velvet Underground-inspired folk rock of Church classics like 1983’s “Electric Lash” and 1981’s “The Unguarded Moment,” it’s the dreamy psychedelia of the band’s current album, Untitled #23, heavily under the sway of David Gilmour-era Pink Floyd, that will daub your evening with shades of paisley.

If you’re a die-hard Church-head, you probably enjoyed watching Koppes (or a roadie who resembled him from the back of the barn-like Slim’s) tuning a small arsenal of guitars for the 50 minutes that preceded the set. Others might have preferred a dozen Popeye cartoons. Then there was the amp meltdown that brought things to a grinding halt for 15 minutes, about half an hour into the set. The breakdown seemed to catch Kilbey at a loss for standup material to fill the void. To kill time, he described the band’s drive north from Los Angeles, which must have taken a strange turn, indeed. Kilbey referred to both the Andersen’s Split-Pea Soup restaurant near Buellton on the coast-hugging Highway 101 and the cattle-staging area dubbed “Cowschwiz,” located near Coalinga. It’s actually the Harris Ranch, the major supplier of ground beef for the In-N-Out hamburger chain, and it’s deep in California’s central valley on Highway 5. You can’t take both roads. Then again, who’s to say the band who cut the enthralling “Two Places At Once” in 1994 couldn’t pull it off?

“Have you ever noticed, the farther north you get in California, the less you hear people shout out, ‘Play some rock ‘n’ roll!’?” said Kilbey to Willson-Piper. “They’re more sophisticated up here.” And play the Church did after the amp was fixed, although not the mindless party soundtrack some L.A. hecklers might have preferred. It was a treat to finally hear 1988’s “Under The Milky Way,” the grizzled Aussies’ sole American chart entry, played live. The last time I saw the Church, opening for Echo & The Bunnymen in 1986, the song was just a glimmer in its collective eye.

“Deadman’s Hand,” “Happenstance” and “Pangaea,” all from Untitled #23, are taken at a measured, Dark Side Of The Moon pace. It’s surprising to hear the Church has soaked up a bit of the Bunnymen’s essence over the years. Kilbey enriches the new songs with his 12-string, while Koppes’ slide work on “Happenstance” is exemplary. If the recent stuff isn’t as groundbreaking as its earlier material, the Church, like the Rolling Stones before it, should be granted a lifetime pass from creating spectacular new music. The band has already done plenty of that.

—Jud Cost

Film At 11: Death Vessel

Here’s the video for “Circa,” a track off the lovely and not-to-be-forgotten 2008 album by Death Vessel, Nothing Is Precious Enough For Us. If you’re looking for a monster of folk, this is your Mothra. Which is easier to believe: that this track is sung by the male voice of Joel Thibodeau, or that the video features a cameo appearance by the now grown-up baby from Nirvana’s Nevermind cover?